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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

ARC Review: See You at Harry's

TITLE: See You at Harry's       AUTHOR: Jo Knowles
PUB: Candlewick Press            PUB DATE: 5/8/12
FORMAT: ARC, 310 pgs
SOURCE: from pub for review

Starting middle school brings all the usual challenges - until the unthinkable happens, and Fern and her family must find a way to heal.
Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she's not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn't know he's gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there's Charlie: three years old, a "surprise" baby, the center of everyone's world. He's devoted to Fern, but he's annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn't for Ran, Fern's calm and positive best friend, there'd be nowhere to turn. Ran's mantra, "All will be well," is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it's true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same.

THREE WORDS: Palpable, Poignant, Breathtaking

MY REVIEW: I usually turn to MG books when I need a fun, exciting and lighthearted read, but I went into Jo Knowles’ See You At Harry’s knowing that this was going to be a different kind of middle grade book. I have a long list of favorite MG books, many that are wonderfully written and enjoyable, but none of them have so profoundly and poignantly moved me quite like See You At Harry’s has.

Twelve year old Fern often feels overlooked, even in her own family. Her father is busy trying to run the family restaurant; her mother is busy running the family, her older sister is busy figuring her life out, her older brother is busy struggling with his sexuality and her little brother is too busy simply being three. The only one who seems to get Fern is her best friend Ran. But when tragedy strikes, each family member is overcome with grief and deals with it differently, leaving Fern feeling as alone as ever. Even Ran’s mantra of “All will be well” can’t help Fern put her family back together again.

I was in a very emotional state when I started reading this book. In fact, I debated whether or not I should even read it at the time, but I figured I was already upset so why not? And I’m SO glad that I decided to read it when I did because despite the painful, serious subject matter, there is also a lot of hopefulness in the story as well. Hopefulness that left me with a lighter heart and fresh outlook on my own situation. Honestly, this book was exactly what I needed at the time!

Knowles crafts a raw, honest, at times unbearably painful story that took my breathe away with its beauty and palpable emotion. Knowles is certainly a talented storyteller and character developer. I devoured this book in a few hours and days later the story still hasn’t left me. I hope it never does. Even though this is considered MG, I want to be clear that it is NOT a lighthearted, easy story to digest. But it is powerful, moving and important.

Grief, guilt, struggles with sexuality, self-doubt, loneliness- this are not easy things to deal with, nor are they easy things to capture realistically. But Knowles does just that. The story is told from Fern’s point a view and her voice is so authentic and honest, allowing every emotion and every struggle to feel real, to feel electric. Knowles writes her characters’ emotions so well that at times I felt as if I was almost intruding upon their pain. But isn’t this what we, as readers, want? To feel as if the characters we are reading about and their stories are real, are touchable, are intrinsically a part of ourselves?

And Knowles characters are superbly layered and developed! They aren’t perfect nor did I always like their choices, their words, their actions. But I always felt invested in each and every one of them. Fern’s fierce compassion, startling honesty and ability to understand people gives her such a captivating voice and perspective. I ached so badly for this girl and wanted to reach within the pages and hug her, but I also celebrated in her small victories and took pride in her strength and compassion. There are things that are equally lovable and frustrating about each of Fern’s family members; making them so very realistic.

I also loved that each child is named after a book character: Sara (A Little Princess), Holden (Catcher in the Rye), Fern (Charlotte’s Web), and Charlie (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

Even though See You At Harry’s is told from Fern’s perspective, it isn’t just her story being told. This is a story about how grief and pain can break people, can break a family, and how hope, understanding and clarity can heal people, can bring people back together. The story doesn’t end in a nauseatingly cheerful or complete way. Knowles doesn’t cheapen her story or the readers’ experience by trying to offer some happy little ending wrapped in a pretty bow. But the book does end on a hopeful note.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: See You At Harry’s is a beautifully written book that moved me, had me in tears and left me both thoughtful and thankful. It may not be an easy read, but is a worthwhile MUST read!
5/5 Cupcakes

Find the author: Website / Goodreads / Twitter / Facebook
Purchase: Amazon / B&N / Book Depository
Jo Knowles is  the author of See You At Harry's (coming May 2012), PearlJumping Off Swings, and Lessons From A Dead Girl.


Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...

aww..this sounds like a touching read..Great review..Glad you enjoyed it so much :)

Andrea @ The Busy Bibliophile said...

Call me ignorant, but I didn't realize MG books dealt with such big issues. I assumed they were "lighter" and didn't get deep until the teen years and YA books. This one does sound good, though. Thanks for the review (and enlightenment!).